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Buried Alive 

A retrospective of the odd and brilliant films of Teshigahara Hiroshi

Wednesday, Jun 6 2001
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Teshigahara Hiroshi was an artist with more gifts than he had time for -- he died in April of leukemia at 74. Throughout his career, filmmaking vied with other artistic pursuits such as painting, pottery, landscape installations, and heading the Sogetsu flower arrangement school. His refusal to compromise his other projects might account for the unsatisfying results of Teshigahara's most recent films (from a decade ago) -- gorgeous, static, medieval-era disappointments about the tribulations of tea masters forced to serve the whimsy of a tyrannical warlord.

But Teshigahara's films from the 1960s, featured in this month's inadvertently memorial retrospective at the PFA, were brilliant explorations of self and social identity and the atavistic terror of being buried alive. In four of them, he collaborated with avant-garde writer Abe Kobo, composer Takemitsu Toru, and (in all but one) cinematographer Segawa Hiroshi, creating haunting, mordant works that addressed existential doubts of dutiful Japanese participating in the nascent economic miracle.

I haven't seen Teshigahara's first feature film, Pitfall (June 10, 5:30 p.m.), but I'm told that it plays social-realist issues against the powers of the unseen world, perhaps more literally than in his later works. His most famous film, Woman in the Dunes (June 10, 7:25 p.m.), is still his most powerful, a visual masterpiece in which an entomologist pursuing an insect that would bear his name finds himself pinned and wriggling at the bottom of a sandpit. In The Face of Another (June 17, 5:30 p.m.), shown here in a sparkling new print, advanced prosthetic technology conspires with the ancient shamanistic power of masks to confound a man's struggle to maintain his status in a new Tokyo world of casual adultery and German beer halls.

The Ruined Map (June 24, 5:30 p.m.) poses the enigma of a man who may be chasing himself. The rarely screened Summer Soldiers (June 24, 7:50 p.m.) is unique in presenting an American protagonist -- a black Vietnam War deserter -- stuck in bureaucratic limbo in Japan and forced to deal with the well-intentioned Japanese sympathizers who harbor him.

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Frako Loden

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